Issue October 16, 2007

Mug Shots: Lupulus eroticus

Contrary to persistent rumors, probably spread by the same uninformed people who insist that Bock beer is the result of brewing vats being cleaned once a year in springtime, beer is not “made” from hops.

    Beer is “made” from grain, most often barley, and sometimes with wheat, oats or rye added to the grist. The body and color of beer derive from these grains, and the alcohol is a heavenly calling card left behind by yeast following their happy snacking on malt sugars.

    Misconceptions about hops are annoying, persistent and entirely understandable. If one is to judge by the non-flavored profile of America’s best-selling mainstream lagers, it is certain that the majority of beer drinkers in our purportedly great nation are suffering from severe lupulin deprivation.

    The American Heritage dictionary helpfully defines lupulin as the “minute yellowish-brown hairs obtained from the strobili of the hop plant, formerly used in medicine as a sedative.” The word lupulin is derived from the new Latin lupulus (hop species, a diminutive of the Latin lupus, hop plant, from lupus, wolf).

    In fact, Pliny the Elder coined Humulus lupulus, the formal name for the hop, and it is possible that he would agree with me: When it comes to beer, bitterness beats watery flaccidity any old day.

    Hops are the seasoning of beer. Hops balance a malt sweetness that would otherwise be cloying. Hops act as a preservative and assist the yeast by thwarting bacteria. Hops cleanse the palate and leave you begging for more. Hops make beer far more interesting than cola, and perhaps hops make beer healthy as well. According to researchers, isohumulones, the agents of bittering in hops, may help curb the development of fat in the human body.

    Hops. They’ve been very, very good to me.

 Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit www.potablecurmudgeon.com for more beer.